About Wells Cathedral and Medieval Centre
Often described as England’s smallest city, Well owes its medieval city status to its beautiful 13th century cathedral. In area and population, Wells is in fact not the smallest city in England – that title goes to the City of London.
However, its size does not diminish the large historical legacy of Wells. Named for the 3 wells dedicated to Saint Andrew, the city grew from a Roman settlement into the Anglo-Saxon period when King Ine of Wessex founded a church there in 704. Wells has since been notable for its cloth-making and role in both the English Civil War and Monmouth Rebellion.
Today, the medieval architecture has led Wells to be a popular filming location. You can tour Wells Cathedral, the “most poetic of the English Cathedrals”, before wandering the picturesque medieval streets.
Wells Cathedral and Medieval Centre history
Originally the site of a Roman mausoleum, an abbey church was built in Wells in 705 AD. The seat of the bishop moved from Wells in 1090, beginning a dispute over the location for centuries to come. Nonetheless, a cathedral was built around 1175 in the new Gothic style and completed in 1306 (although continually added to).
During the English Civil War and ‘Siege of Wells’, the city found itself surrounded by Parliamentarians. While Royalists evacuated the city, Parliamentarians used the cathedral to stable their horses and damaged ornate sculptures by using for shooting practice.
In 1685, when the West Country tried to overthrow King James II, the rebel army attacked the cathedral as a symbol of the Church. Lead roofing was used for bullets and the organ was smashed. In punishment, Wells became the final location of the Bloody Assizes in September 1685: over 500 men were tried and predominantly sentenced to death at the makeshift court.
Until the 16th and 17th centuries, Wells had been an important centre for cloth-making. Although this area of trade diminished, the market shifted focus to cheese in the 19th century, becoming the largest cheese market in the country.
During World War Two, Stoberry Park in Wells was used as a prisoner of war camp for Italian prisoners from the African Campaign. Later, German prisoners were also housed there after the Battle of Normandy.
Wells Cathedral and Medieval Centre today
Wells Cathedral is breathtaking and features inverted Gothic arches and an incredible octagonal Chapter House. Inside you will find the baptismal font of Bishop Aldhelm, which predates the cathedral by over 400 years. Do not to miss the Wells Clock – the second oldest clock in Britain – with knights spinning and chimes ringing every quarter-hour.
Vicars’ Close (pictured) is thought to be the only surviving medieval street in England. Overlooked by the cathedral, the 14th century houses with their tall chimneys provide a unique window into the past. Before leaving, be sure to stop at the 900 years-old Wells Market Place, overflowing with locals selling honey, soaps, cheeses and local game.
Getting to Wells Cathedral and Medieval Centre
If driving from Bath or Bristol, Wells is 40 minutes away. From the M5 North, take the M4, M35, A37 and A39. From the South, leave Junction 23 on the M5 and take the A39. There is parking on Union Street and Princes Road, both a 6-8 minute walk from the cathedral.